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© Frank


If You Don't Do Politics, Politics is Going to Do You

by LaKeshia Myers
October 29, 2020

This interview with Wisconsin State Representative LaKeshia Myers was conducted and condensed by franknews.

LaKeshia | I'm State Representative LaKeshia Myers from the 12th assembly district in Wisconsin. My district encompasses the far Northwest corner of the city of Milwaukee and a small portion of the city of Wauwatosa. 

frank | What concerns do you have in the days moving into this election — in terms of the area that you live in and that you represent?

Not in my area. I'm more concerned about other districts where, in the past, there have been efforts to sway the vote by distributing false information. People would put up signs in the central city of Milwaukee saying to vote the day after the election. Fake notices would be sent to people's mailboxes that their vote wouldn't count for one reason or another. We've seen those things in the past, but I've not heard of anything happening this particular election cycle.

In fact, turnout has been very good at the early voting locations across the city. There is an early voting location in my district, and I've helped many constituents apply for and turn in absentee ballots. We have secure drop boxes that are located at each of the public libraries. I've seen people take advantage of those capabilities.

In addition, we have done large scale campaigns and worked with other organizations to ensure that individuals know how to fill out their ballot, that they have a witness, that they know where to drop off your ballot, and that they know how to track their ballots online. All of these things have been going on for months.

There was some contention surrounding the Wisconsin elections during the primary, and around the decision to keep voting in person despite the threat of COVID. Do you feel like the state learned from that and do you feel like the changes were significant enough moving into the general election?

I think the state did learn from that experience. I also think that they received such backlash that they would dare not repeat that again.

We have almost 600,000 people in Milwaukee. We are the largest city in the state, but we only had five polling locations open during the primaries. We usually have 181.

That is ridiculous. That fell squarely on the shoulders of our city election commissioner and the mayor of the city. And at the state level, there was the bantering back and forth about whether to cancel the election or to postpone it. It was going to take an act of the legislature to postpone the election, yet the individuals in leadership in the state legislature refused to act on it. 

As a result, when the election came in April, we had to do whatever we could to keep people in line in those five polling locations. I was there, I witnessed it. I was out there handing out cheeseburgers so people would stay in line because they had been there for hours. I had so many elders in the community that contacted me saying I have never missed an election, but I am too afraid to vote this time. There were people who couldn't find the correct polling location. The actual city election website would tell them they needed to go to one location, and when they arrived at that location, poll workers would send them to another.

A recent Supreme Court decision said that ballots received after election day in Wisconsin would not be counted despite the date of their mail-in. What do you think about that? 

I disagree with the decision. Especially with everything that's going on with the postal service. Ballots that were postmarked by election day should be accepted. If people are trying to get their ballot in on time, who is to say that with more postal resources or employees the ballots wouldn’t have gotten there before election day? 

Are there other policies specific to Wisconsin, or even to Milwaukee, that try to limit the ability to vote? 

Absolutely there are other policies. The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty challenged the elections process in the state of Wisconsin and wanted to throw people off the voter rolls. 

There were elected officials, Black elected officials, whose names were on that list. The County Executive's name was on the list. Board members' names were on that list. These are people who we know to vote in every election, but yet they were going to be tossed off the voter rolls when they released that list. 

Hillary Clinton was pretty vocal about feeling like her loss in Wisconsin was due to voter suppression in 2016. Do you think that's a fair accusation? 

I do think that is a valid assessment from Secretary Clinton. That was part of it, but it wasn’t the only part of it. The fact that she did not come to Wisconsin still plays heavily in my mind as a campaign error. I would have expected that she would mandate that from her campaign. I know they work off of metrics and polling a lot of the time, but, in my opinion, boutique politics still works. 

There was also a massive misinformation campaign in Wisconsin. We saw Black radio, Latino radio, and newspapers, oversaturated with hit pieces on Clinton. Whether that was from Russia or from domestic strife, I don’t know, but it had a huge impact. That was a concerted effort to limit the number of people who voted. If you look at the numbers, you see that there was a huge under vote — meaning people would vote for local and statewide offices, but would not for a president.

In 2016, there were a lot of people who sat out the election, and there were a lot of people who decided to only vote for the people that they saw as immediately affecting them. 

In Milwaukee, the Black vote dipped about 19% from 2012 to 2016. Causality is a hard thing to nail down in politics. It is hard to say that it was ads that they heard on the radio or targeted ads or disinterest in the candidate themselves. Do you feel like there's a difference in momentum, especially among the Black community in Milwaukee, in this election — compared to 2016?

I have seen a lot of postings about how much the Black vote dropped, especially in the city of Milwaukee and other swing states like Michigan. But when you talk about Milwaukee or Wisconsin,  it was way more than just the African-American population that impacted the outcome. We were a part of it, but when you look at 6 million people living in the state of Wisconsin, African-Americans only make up 7% of the total state's population, and Latinos only make up another 6% of that population. Altogether we are less than 14% of the state's population. I think it is important to understand the larger demographics of these states. 

But going back to your question, I think there was disinterest in the candidates in 2016. But I think that has totally changed this year because people understand what is at stake. People understand what it looks like to have a volatile person as president.

Wisconsin exports a lot — and the trade wars and the up and down with Russia has taken a toll.

We are the number one manufacturers of cheese. We are the number one manufacturer of cranberries. A lot of farmers have lost their farm due to the volatile trade decisions coming from the president. 

Milwaukee used to be known as the "Machine Shop of the World." The policies that have shrunk our manufacturing base have been in the works for the last 40 years — people are working two jobs and still don't have the ability to make ends meet. And now there are even more people in that situation. People are out of work and we are still tying healthcare to employment. Wisconsin refused to take Medicare expansion. These policy decisions are becoming a lot more real to a lot of people now. 

If you were to ask most working-class people or middle-class people, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” The answer would be no, and it would probably be an emphatic no. I think that matters. And I think people have realized that they cannot sit at home and that it is not enough to vote third party. I think a lot of people will participate in this election. I'm expecting in-person turnout to still be high on November 3rd in Wisconsin. 

Do you think this tangible feeling of policy you’re describing is at a rare high because COVID is so widespread?

Absolutely. The one blessing with COVID is the fact that everybody can see exactly how policy impacts their life. When you have a large scale pandemic like this, you get to see the priorities of your government in action. You get to see really up close and personal where we are. 

Of course, there is still vitriolic rhetoric that exists to heighten people's fears. When Donald Trump says that he is “here for suburban housewives," that is a dog whistle meant to stir up racial animosities. But I think these circumstances are offering people the opportunity to get out and vote from the economic perspective. 

I think we all now understand that we can no longer sustain this country the way we are going.

The fact that our minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation is asinine. The fact that you are still paying people $7.25 is ridiculous when a gallon of milk costs $3. Does a person really have to work for half an hour to pay for a gallon of milk? 

People are able to understand policy in terms of dollars and cents. We no longer have the ability to say, "Oh, I don't want to be engaged in politics", because right now, if you don't do politics, politics is going to do you. 

COVID has grounded the way government impacts our lives.

Exactly. I mean, look at the way this has been handled. We are still arguing about whether or not to wear masks. We never activated the Defense Production Act to the extent that it needed to be enacted. Mom and pop skilled nursing facilities in my district were competing with major hospitals for PPE at exorbitant prices. The public was being lied to for months on end. 

And on top of all of that, when people in April went to go protest at the Capital with guns and no masks, they were allowed to do so freely. Not one ticket was given. On the other hand, we have had protesters who have been out for over a hundred nights straight protesting police misconduct, and these people are being taken to jail. The federal government is says, "lock them up." The president is saying that we need to have “law and order.” I'm not that old, but I have read enough history books to know that that was what Richard Nixon said and to know that he used it as a racist dog whistle. I think people have had enough. This is not going to be the way in which this country proceeds. I think that this election is going to surprise a lot of people.